You’ve seen the argument. Perhaps you’ve even made this argument yourself: “I don’t see race! I treat all people based on their skills and efforts.” Or its variant: “I prefer to see past [race/gender/etc.]; we’re all just people.” But this utopian idea is naïve, even harmful.
The problem with saying “I don’t see X” is two-fold: first, your belief that not “seeing” people for the diversity they represent makes you a good person. It doesn’t (and going about the world thinking you’re better than those who do actually makes things worse), but more on that in a bit. The second part — and the crux of this matter — is that not seeing people for their diversity of backgrounds means you’re actively and consciously ignoring the (historical and current) context of their lives.
It’s akin to telling someone who was wrongly imprisoned for thirty years, “hey, you’re out of jail now, so stop talking about it!” As if ex-convicts are not discriminated against or stigmatized in society, including those who were wrongly imprisoned.
Not every woman in today’s world grows up being subjected to bouts of sexism, or feeling repressed. Not every person of color feels they suffer racism on a daily basis. Not every person with a disability, or from a different class, or what-have-you, feels or even experiences the systemic discriminations against those like them, which exist whether they notice it or not. But every person who belongs to an identifiable group of any kind carries with them the context — and, in many ways, the associated burdens — of the discriminations against their group, both current and past.
People of color know that not too long ago they were treated very differently in society, and they know that some of that still happens today. Individuals among them may not notice the myriad effects on their lives, because it’s all they know and it’s how they grew up and so this is just normal life for them. But they, too, carry the historical context with them.
The same is true for women, who are the majority demographic of the planet and yet still routinely discriminated against, even actively oppressed in many nations (including our “progressive” Western countries). That doesn’t mean every single woman feels oppressed, but many women — and men — are well aware of it happening.
It’s true for all marginalized demographics: for each, individuals exist who may not (consciously) feel these discriminations, but that doesn’t mean that on a systemic level they no longer exist, or that others belonging to those same groups don’t feel the discriminations either. Just because we have a Marissa Mayer or two running big companies doesn’t mean sexism is over, and the same is true for all the other -isms that collectively form our current society and its many systemic, intersectional discriminations of most groups of people.
When someone claims to not see people’s attributes, to look past characteristic X and Y, they’re saying they think these contexts of discrimination no longer matter, or no longer exist. The implication is that these people are not suffering from racism, sexism, ableism, classism, ageism, or any of these things anymore.
Whether that implication is intended or not, the claim that people can be cleanly separated from the context of their background is offensive, because it ignores and nullifies the significance of their lived experiences, which very well may include discriminations they endured (and are enduring today).
The argument of “not seeing X,” and presuming you are thus a good person, is actually a cop-out, a delusion against one’s own conscience: it is an attempt to excuse oneself of the responsibility to examine any complicity in these systemic discriminations. But society trains us all to be complicit in these discriminatory systems, hence why they are called systemic discriminations. There is no “they” in society who wield power and cast its ills upon the disenfranchised; “they” is us. We make society what it is, through our collective actions.
When too many people make the assertion that racism and sexism and all those issues no longer exist, through the argument of “not seeing X,” then it may cause some people to actually believe that, but it does nothing to solve the discriminations plaguing real people who suffer them. Worse, it hinders progress, as it asserts that no progress need be made anymore.
It’s time to put that argument to rest.
- All Rise, an Introduction (psychologytoday.com)
- Racism And White Feminists: 3 Ways To Be An Ally (persephonemagazine.com)
- Less racism and sexism means more economic growth (theweek.com)
- Trans Feminism: There’s No Conundrum About It (deludedserano.wordpress.com)
- All Rise: Somebodies, Nobodies, and the Politics of Dignity (Introduction) (themoderatevoice.com)
- Caravan for Equality, Dignity and Social Justice (asylstrikeberlin.wordpress.com)
- Rethinking Sexism: How Trans Women Challenge Feminism | Alternet (sexism2wardswomen.wordpress.com)
- Dear Teen Wolf: The Utopia Doesn’t Always Work (ladygeekgirl.wordpress.com)
- Middlesex-led project examines multiple-discrimination in EU healthcare (mdx.ac.uk)
- Real American Problems: The Difference Between Racism, Discrimination, And Prejudice. (realamericatoday.wordpress.com)